KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Compilation Or Catalog? – ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN

[A brief explanation of my Compilation Or Catalog? series: Although I tend to be a completist, owning everything an artist has released, occasionally the only album I own is a compilation. This can often be a stepping-stone to exploring more of their work, but sometimes a “Best Of” or “Greatest Hits” is the only thing I’ve heard. With this series I ask my readers to let me know if the compilation I have is sufficient or if there are specific albums I should check out. Normally I revisit the entire recorded output of a particular artist over numerous posts, which is the main purpose of this blog, but this gives me an opportunity to learn more about some lesser-known & less-explored artists in my collection]

Echo & The Bunnymen Photo (color)Echo & The Bunnymen was a group I knew about in the ‘80s but never investigated their music. As a fan of guitar-oriented rock music back then, I lumped them in with the more synth-based British bands of the era like Depeche Mode, New Order, Psychedelic Furs, Simple Minds, The Cure, etc. I did enjoy some songs by those artists, as well as Howard Jones, Nik Kershaw, Spandau Ballet & others, but by 1983 I was enthralled by a triumvirate of new guitar rock bands: U2, The Alarm and Big Country. It wasn’t until sometime in the ‘90s that I decided to check out Echo & The Bunnymen, and the obvious entry into their catalog was the single-disc compilation Song To Learn & Sing (1985). This collection includes 11 songs recorded between 1980 & 1985, covering Echo & The Bunnymen - Songs To Learn & Singhighlights of their first four albums with a few singles and b-sides thrown in. The lineup during this time was Ian McCulloch (vocals & guitar), Will Sergeant (lead guitar), Les Pattinson (bass) and Pete de Freitas (drums), and I really came to appreciate their musicianship the more I played this CD. I also realized that they’re nearly as much of a guitar band as the others I mentioned, and I wish I had given them a chance back then.

“Rescue” has a great chiming guitar pattern and over-enunciated vocals that point to U2 and The Alarm (a comparison that applies to many of the songs here). I love the way it opens up for the chorus (“Won’t you come on down to my…rescue?”) and the confessional lyrics (“Things are going wrong, can you tell that in a song?”). “The Puppet” has a driving, propulsive rhythm with more chiming guitar and a great chorus (“You knew about this with your head in your hands, all along I was the puppet”). Pattinson’s bass line and Sergeant’s guitar tone are the highlights of the instrumental section.

Two songs didn’t make as much of an impression on me as the others, but they’re still notable. “Do It Clean” has a garage rock looseness with a lot of energy. I just didn’t find it terribly catchy. “A Promise” has McCulloch delivering some over-the-top whiny vocals, a la The Cure’s Robert Smith, atop an REM-esque jangly pop arrangement. The big chorus, where he shouts the title, was made for arenas & stadiums. “The Back of Love” has that classic ‘80s production sound, with big echo-y drums and synth strings. I love the stabbing staccato guitar pattern and the melody at “When you say it’s love, d’you mean the back of love?” “The Cutter” is a highlight among highlights. The middle-eastern melody (on guitar? synth?) in the intro & instrumental sections immediately caught my attention. The melody in the chorus is super-catchy (“spare us the cutter, spare us the cutter, couldn’t cut the mustard”), and they introduce a Celtic vibe after the second time he sings, “not just another drop in the ocean.”

[Echo & The Bunnymen – “The Cutter”]

I love the 3-note synth bubbles that float above the insistent strings & steady beat of “Never Stop.” It sounds like an update of early Roxy Music, with an extended instrumental intro and an instantly memorable chorus (“Measure by measure, drop by drop…the love you found must never stop”). “The Killing Moon” is slower & moodier, with a haunting melody and husky vocals. The arrangement is simply perfect, with piano, acoustic guitar, various effects and powerful vocals. The chorus is another instant classic (“Fate, up against your will, through thick and thin…”). The sweeping strings on “Silver” add a dramatic effect to this epic love song (“Just look at you with burning lips, you’re living proof at my fingertips”). The guitar solo (on 12-string, I believe) has a jangly, Roger McGuinn sound. “Seven Seas” is driven by a pulsating, walking bass line, and features another 12-string guitar solo. It’s a wonderful song with an amazing chorus (“Seven seas…swimming them so well”).

“Bring On The Dancing Horses” was the only new song on this collection, having been written specifically for the John Hughes film, Pretty In Pink. I wasn’t a huge fan of Hughes’ “Brat Pack” films, even though I saw most of them when they were released, so I never had a connection to any of the music in the movies or on the soundtracks. Even without any emotional ties to this song, I quickly latched onto it. It’s moody and melodic at the same time, with a steady programmed beat and shimmering synth. There’s a great hook at, “first I’m gonna make it, then I’m gonna break it ‘til it falls apart,” and it’s hard to believe this was just a minor hit for them.

The only other Echo & The Bunnymen song I’m familiar with is “Lips Like Sugar,” which appeared on the studio album released immediately after Songs To Learn & Sing. Having heard it a number of times recently at the gym, it was probably my initial impetus for Echo & The Bunnymen Photo (early 80s)revisiting this compilation. Now that I’ve given it a number of listens and fallen in love with most of the songs, I’m asking my readers to let me know what else I should check out from their discography. Their first five albums are available in a reasonably priced mini-box called Original Album Series, which packages five CDs in replica mini-LP sleeves, but doesn’t include any liner notes, lyrics or bonus tracks. Those albums have also been expanded & remastered, but collecting them individually would cost more than the mini box set. They’ve released six albums since their ‘80s heyday, one of which featured a different singer after McCulloch left the band, before he reunited with Sergeant as Echo & The Bunnymen in the late-‘90s. Are any of those records worth checking out? There’s also a deluxe, career-spanning 4-CD box set called Crystal Days: 1979-1999,which could be a good option if you think I’m better off with a broad overview instead of purchasing specific albums. I’m pleasantly surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed their music this past week, and I look forward to hearing more. Your feedback will be very helpful in deciding how deeply I dive into their catalog. Thanks for your assistance.

UPDATE, DECEMBER 14, 2013: Since I posted this “Compilation Or Catalog?” entry in April, a number of very devoted Echo & The Bunnymen fans chimed in with very good suggestions. It was immediately clear that they’re not simply a Compilation artist, especially if that compilation is the relatively brief single-CD collection, Songs To Learn & Sing, which had been my only prior exposure to their music. However, even the most dedicated fans admitted that I might not need to hear everything from this influential band, but that their first four albums (Crocodiles, Heaven Up Here, Porcupine and Ocean Rain) are beyond essential. To a lesser extent, it was suggested that their fifth album (simply titled Echo & The Bunnymen) was worth checking out, if for no other reason than to have the infectious hit single, “Lips Like Sugar.” During a record shopping excursion shortly after completing this post, I was fortunate to find expanded CDs of three of the original albums at very reasonable prices, as well as the 4-CD career-spanning box set, Crystal Days: 1979-1999, which I couldn’t pass up. A few weeks later I found the others (also in expanded CD format), and I’m now the proud owner of everything that was recommended as well as a box set that includes rarities & some later recordings not included on those individual albums. After listening to each of them at least twice I realize that I had missed out on some great music by an amazing band for all these years. Although I probably won’t be getting their post-reunion albums anytime soon, nor will I explore Ian McCulloch’s solo output, they’re much closer to being a Catalog artist for me now. If you’re stopping by for the first time and think (like I did) that a single CD can capture everything you need to hear from Echo & The Bunnymen, I can join the chorus of fans who strongly recommended their first four albums. Thank you to everyone who pointed me in the right direction.

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24 comments on “Compilation Or Catalog? – ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN

  1. stephen1001
    April 13, 2013

    Can’t say I’ve explored their catalogue yet – Crocodiles (1980) and Porcupine (1983) are both in the 1001 album book though, so I’ll have feedback sometime within the next few years!

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    • It’s possible that by the time you get to those albums I may already own them, so we can compare notes at that point. I have a feeling I’m going to like at least some of their albums, but I’m hoping to hear from people who have been fans for a long time to let me know where to start my collection.

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      • HowardD
        July 16, 2013

        I saw them in 1981 in Paris ‘le palace’… I would definitely recommend ‘heaven up here’ and about forgotten artists of the time, listen to the Sound too!
        Enjoy.

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      • Thanks for the feedback, Howard. Based on feedback I received after posting this, I’d gotten the expanded & remastered CDs of Crocodiles, Heaven Up Here, Porcupine, Ocean Rain and Echo & The Bunnymen, as well as the Crystal Days box set. I’m now a much bigger fan. Not sure if I’ll check out any of their later material, since there are too many other artists & albums I need to get first. Haven’t heard of The Sound but will look into them. I appreciate the recommendation.

        Cheers!
        Rich

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  2. shumm
    April 13, 2013

    Ocean Rain is a classic. Definitely recommended.

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    • Thanks. Based on the three songs from that album included on this compilation (“The Killing Moon,” “Silver” and “Seven Seas”), I don’t doubt that I would love Ocean Rain. The question is, do I buy the mini-box with the first five albums or the remastered & expanded editions of each album?

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  3. Alan K.
    April 17, 2013

    Rich – a belated response – I always appreciated this band and I think they were overly dismissed, at least in this country, and my personal theory has always been that it was their silly band name. I agree that “The Cutter” is a superb and unique track…not many hit songs by British bands feature Middle Eastern musical influences (and it really ends – no fadeout!)
    I also agree that “Lips Like Sugar” and “Bring On the Dancing Horses” are great tracks, if perhaps dated-sounding now (and I remember someone pointing out that they are both the same – good – song, which is not untrue….) I actually own the “Crystal Days” box set and enjoy playing it. I think having a “Best Of…” by these guys is good enough. The only great EATB song not on “Songs to Learn & Sing” is actually the song “Crystal Days” from the album “Ocean Rain”- and it seems like if you want a studio album from them, as SHUMM mentions, (hi, Shumm!) that one is the one to get. You didn’t mention the Jim Morrison influence on Ian, which I always noticed – not many rock singers have deep, low voices like that, and to me it was what distinguished them the most from the contemporaries that you mentioned.

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    • Hi Alan. I really appreciate your input on Echo & The Bunnymen. You’re probably right about the band name not doing them any favors with the record buying public, especially in America (although it didn’t hurt The Goo Goo Dolls or Hootie & The Blowfish, so who knows what makes a “good” band name”). I’ve gotten some feedback from fans who claim the first 4 (and possibly 5) albums are all essential, and everything beyond that is worth exploring, but I’m skeptical. I also don’t know if I have the time to explore all of their albums with so many other great artists out there, but I do want to delve at least a little more deeply into their catalog. I already have a copy of the expanded & remastered version of Ocean Rain on order. Depending on the price of the individual CDs vs. the box set, I’ll have to decide which is best for me.

      Great point about Ian’s voice owing a debt to Jim Morrison. I hadn’t thought of that but now that you’ve mentioned it, I can definitely hear the similarity. Has he acknowledged the influence?

      Thanks again.

      Rich

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      • Alan K.
        April 17, 2013

        Sounds like you have everything you probably *need* to have on the band. RE: the Doors influence – yes, I remeber Ian being very aware of it and commenting on it many times. In fact EATB recorded both “Light My Fire” and “People Are Strange” as covers.

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      • So you think Songs To Learn & Sing and Ocean Rain are all the essentials I would need? Keep in mind that Songs… doesn’t include ‘Lips Like Sugar,” so I would need to own that in some form. Based on your original comment, Crystal Days might be a good option, especially since I love a good box set. I’ll have to look into the pricing. If it’s still in print the cost might be reasonable. Otherwise, cut-out box sets can go for a lot of money.

        That’s cool info about them doing Doors covers. Thanks for letting me know.

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  4. Barry
    April 18, 2013

    If you have more than just a passing interest in the band, you should certainly check out the first 4 albums as others have said. They have their own style and sound that sets them apart from each other. That makes the 5 disc set fabulous value for money. That said, the 2003 remastered albums do contain a wealth of bonus tracks; they produced some great EPs and b-sides (listen to ‘Angels & Devils’ when your copy of ‘Ocean Rain’ arrives and wonder how it never made the album) plus some of the ‘live’ bonus tracks give an insight into just how good they were live when they were in their pomp.

    If you intend to buy individually, I would recommend this order: Ocean Rain -> Crocodiles -> Heaven Up Here -> Porcupine. The Crystal Days box set is great but I would take the albums above it unless you can pick it up cheap.

    Now to read your Joni Mitchell write-up which is why I stumbled upon this site 🙂

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    • Thanks so much for the feedback, Barry. I’ve been going back & forth trying to decide what’s the best way to approach the rest of their catalog. I’m not sure I’ll need to own everything but I definitely want to hear more than just the songs on the compilation I already own. Since I already ordered the remastered version of Ocean Rain, I’ll see how I feel about that album, bonus tracks & packaging before deciding if I should get the other expanded remasters or just get the 5-disc mini-box or the Crystal Days box set (if it can be found at a reasonable price). I’m only a b-side/rarities enthusiast for a handful of bands, so I’m more interested in the albums. What do you think of the 5th album, the one with “Lips Like Sugar”?

      I had a great time getting to know Joni’s catalog and writing about it. I hope you’ll share your thoughts on her music if you enjoy that series.

      Thanks again for stopping by.

      Cheers!
      Rich

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      • Barry
        April 19, 2013

        The 5th album (or grey album as it’s sometimes known) is a disappointment when compared with the 4 LPs prior. Keyboards replace strings for the most part and the production is a little glossy. That’s not to say it’s a bad record; it’s just weak compared to its siblings. The band hate it, blaming both the production and record company pressures to deliver a breakthrough; the band effectively split a year later (’88). ‘Lips…’ is a reasonable pointer to how the rest of the album sounds; there’s some great tracks on it (‘The Game’) so worth checking out, at least, but only after the first 4. Incidentally, in reference to a post above, The Doors’ Ray Manzarek plays on it. The ‘Crystal Days’ boxset has a number of alternative versions which reveal a more punchy sound and hints at what may have been.

        Speaking of compilations, be aware that approximately half of the ‘Crystal Days’ boxset is made up of alternative/live versions of album tracks coupled with b-sides. It works brilliantly for folks who are new to the band as well as giving something different for long time fans but it may not be for you given your comment above.

        An alternative compilation to consider, if that’s your chosen route, is the ‘Killing Moon’ compilation from 2007. 36 tracks across 2 discs and available to pick up cheaply (here in the UK anyway). All of the tracks come from the same period as ‘Songs To Learn…’ but also includes the ‘Grey’ period; it gives a deeper insight into the first 5 albums (5-6 tracks each). There’s also the ‘More Songs To Learn…’ single disc compilation that includes tracks from after they reformed (’97) but I’d stay away from this as you miss out on awful lot of good stuff (…but it does have later tracks ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ and ‘Rust’ which, in my opinion, rank right up there with the pre- break up material).

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      • Once again Barry, I really appreciate your detailed feedback. I will probably wait until I hear the expanded “Ocean Rain” before getting anything else, and at that point I’ll have some decisions to make. In the meantime I’ll keep checking prices on various releases, and if there’s a deal I can’t pass up (like a cheap copy of the box set) then that’s what I’ll choose. The important thing I’ve learned is that there are plenty of excellent songs that didn’t appear on “Songs To Learn & Sing,” so that compilation will no longer suffice as my only E&TB collection.

        Have a good weekend.
        Rich

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  5. Barry
    April 19, 2013

    No problem. As you can tell, I am/was a big fan. First band I ever got obsessed with (in terms of having to buy everything, pick-up bootlegs etc.) and a big part of my musical education (their covers led me to Cohen, the Velvets, The Modern Lovers and, via an Ian McCulloch solo track, Joni Mitchell…which is where I came in).

    Let us know how you (and others?) get on; I’d be real interested. Nice blog btw. There’s some stuff here I’ll be working through in the coming weeks.

    Like

    • Barry, I went on a rare record shopping excursion today (there are no stores in my area, so I drove 40 minutes to a friend’s store in Brooklyn), and I’m pleased to report that I found reasonably-priced copies of the Crystal Days box set and expanded versions of Heaven Up There and Porcupine. Combine that with the expanded Ocean Rain I already ordered and my E&TB collection has grown significantly. Your feedback was a big part in helping me decide what to buy, so I thank you again. Not sure if I’ll ever write a full series on them…there are too many other artists ahead of them on the list…but it’s good to know that input from a single “Compilation Or Catalog?” post can guide me to more great music.

      Have an enjoyable weekend.
      Rich

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  8. Redvaliant
    October 16, 2013

    HI, I’ve owned the four original lps on vinyl since they were released and have them all again as remastered cds, and you need to own all of them! Crocodiles is really the place to start; all Doors-like comparisons begin here but it’s much more than that. It’s got a great nocturnal feel to it while still being alt-pop rocky. Heaven Up Here is more of a brooding piece, and if you don’t care for A Promise, then it might be hard going. Personally, I love the overwrought vocals and dark anthems on this one. At the time, they were serious rivals to U2 in the big song stakes and were attempting to cross from indie land to the big time. They never quite matched U2 in that, but the songs are there.
    Porcupine is a an odd record in that the two singles are great, immediate pop songs, yet the rest of the record gets a bit avant garde and more indulgent. Still, I find new things in it after 30(!) years of listening to it.
    Ocean Rain is the masterpiece, eveyone knows that. There’s not much to add to the way it is regarded now, except to say it was pretty much regarded as their best work back in 84. Having the Killing Moon on it didn’t hurt.

    nice work on the XTC catalogue too. I have the first 4-5 on vinyl and a scattering of cds. For me it’s:
    Black sea
    Skylarking
    Drums & Wires
    O & L.

    Like

    • Hi Redvaliant. Thanks so much for your feedback. I’m happy to report that, since I wrote this post & read through all the recommendations, I now own the expanded editions of the first five E&TB albums as well as the Crystal Days box set. I’ve given each of them a couple of listens and I’m a much bigger fan than I ever expected to be. Not sure why I didn’t embrace their music as much as the “Big 3” UK-based new guitar bands of the early 80s: Big Country, U2 & The Alarm, but I’m glad I finally came around to them. That’s what a good compilation should do, expose you to the most accessible moments in an artist’s catalog & push you to explore more deeply into their catalog. I can’t give an educated assessment of the individual albums yet since I’ve only played them twice, but Ocean Rain & Heaven Up Here are probably my two initial favorites.

      Also, thanks for checking out my XTC series. Seems like we’re on the same wavelength regarding our favorites in their catalog.

      Your input is greatly appreciated.

      Best wishes,
      Rich

      Like

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  11. Clark Troy
    December 13, 2016

    This b-side is maybe their best work, the most distinctive

    Welcome to the LFA

    Clark Troy

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    • Hi Clark. Thanks for sharing this song. It sounded vaguely familiar but I wasn’t sure why, then I noticed that it appears on the Crystal Days box set I picked up after writing this post. I’m not sure I would consider this their best work but it IS distinctive and I do like it a lot.

      So, you’re part of LFA? How did you find me here?

      Best…
      Rich

      Like

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